Last Month I attended a reading series called Radish Reads, hosted by an organization called Loaded Ladle. The aim of Radish Reads is so discuss articles, essays, and books on the topics of food justice and food movements. The topic was Race, Veganism, and Identity and we read from a book called Sistah Vegan: Black Vegans speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society.
Being an African Canadian woman who is attempting to adopt a plant-based diet, the title caught my attention and I decided to sign up. I am always looking for events related to food, environment and so I’m pretty sure I found the Loaded ladle in a random search to see what was going on. I yearn to one day build a group of friends with whom I can attend these events or even host our own but for now, I usually just go by myself.
This was the case of the book club. Not only did I attend alone, which was fine, but I was the only person of color there (boo). I shouldn’t have been surprised but I had been hopeful that there would be some other melanated being to take part in the discussion. The host of the book club seemed eager to discuss the perspectives in the essays we read and get to the heart of the subject matter as was I, but I found that the other two people there were very hesitant to say anything about race at all. They were vegans themselves and both stated that they were interested to read different perspectives about veganism and didn’t want to be the type of vegans who pushed the lifestyle on anyone. It seemed to me that they had never thought about race and veganism before, and being white people, why would they have had to? We stuck to the safer side of the conversation of reasons for being vegan.
The selections we read offered two perspectives. One was entitled “Black-a-Tarian” by Ma’at Sincere Earth who says that she is a vegan but not an animal activist. She writes,”People assume that just because you are a vegan, your front is animal rights, and they think they should never see you in a leather coat or shoes. But that’s not what motivates me to not eat meat.”
The other essay was called “Young, Black, and Vegan” where the writer, Joi Maria Probus, explains that her reasons for being vegan are ethical. She writes ” …as I continued my research into veganism, I could not fathom how I had been so blind to these issues of oppression, enslavement, torture, and death. All I knew was that I could no longer support it.”
Though I do believe in animal rights, I found myself initially relating more so to the first essay. I admire the vegan diet but I just can’t get past the fact of human beings being abused and and people caring more for cats than for people. Maybe that’s a bit of speciesim going on there but I wonder, how can you show so much love for one creature and justify the brutal murder of fellow human beings? Where is the humanity in that? Does it turn on and off? Earth, the writer of the “Black-a-tarian” essay does say that when we start to care for human beings, animal compassion will follow because we will have built a certain core of compassion and morality that extends to all beings. Her words are “As much energy as these organizations put into animal rights, if they put the same into human rights, these animals wouldn’t be mistreated in the first place. It’s just an ongoing cycle of lack of compassion for each other…”
I will be reflecting on several points from the essays and the others in the book which I ended up borrowing. I am fascinated by a book dedicated to this topic in the voices of Black women. In some ways, you will find that the stories are similar to those of anyone, regardless of race. They are just human. But you do find that in some cases, historical factors contribute to elements of the narrative. For example coming from eating what one of the writers calls “slave food” being the part of the animals that slave owners did not want( usually the least healthy parts).
It’s funny that I learned about it from what I will call an “unintentionally white” book club, but I will take anything valuable where I can get it. If you are interested, see if your local library has a copy of Sistah Vegan. You can also read the editor A. Breeze Harper’s blog here.
For those in Halifax, here are the next Radish Reads:
October 27th: Food, Labour, and the Local Food Movement. With selections from Labor and the Locavore
November 24th: Indigenous Perspectives on Food Security and Justice
You might also like my interview with Martha Mutale who talks about her recent vegan journey.